Eighteen years after Californians overwhelmingly approved the country's toughest Three Strikes law, they did an about-face Tuesday, easing the habitual-offender statute in a vote likely to influence criminal justice policies nationwide, says the San Jose Mercury News. "Tonight's vote on Proposition 36 sends a powerful message to policymakers in California and across the country that taxpayers are ready for a new direction in criminal justice,'' said Adam Gelb, director of the Pew Center on the States' Public Safety Performance Project. "States that have already made some changes to their sentencing laws may be inspired to take a second look, and states that haven't made significant changes yet may start.
About half the states already have undertaken significant reforms in the past five years to reduce prison sentences and create alternatives to long periods of incarceration. But the changes were passed by legislators emboldened by positive polls. The measure, which passed handily by more than a 20 percentage-point margin, revises the Three Strikes Law to impose a life sentence only under two circumstances -- when the new felony conviction is "serious or violent,'' or for a minor felony crime if the perpetrator is a murderer, rapist or child molester. Under the existing Three Strikes law, only California, out of 24 states with similar laws, allows the third strike to be any felony. As a result, offenders who have committed such relatively minor third strikes as stealing a pair of socks, attempting to break into a soup kitchen for food, or forging a check for $146 at Nordstrom have been sentenced to life in prison.